(B. 1962)
Artificial Rock No. 4
signed in Chinese; dated and numbered '1997 1/4' (bottom)
stainless steel sculpture
90 x 110 x 236 cm. (35 3/8 x 43 3/8 x 92 7/8 in.)
edition 1/4
Executed in 1997
R.L. Thorp R.E. Vinograd, Chinese Art and Culture, Prentice Hall , Inc., New Jersey, USA, 2003.
H. Wu, Transience: Chinese Experimental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century , University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA, 2005. Hanart T Z Gallery, Zhan Wang: Flowers in the Mirror , Hong Kong, China, 2007 (details illustrated, p. 76).
Z.Wang, New Suyuan Stone Catalogue, Joint Publishing Company, Beijing, 2008 (illustrated, pp. 37 & 56-57).
D. Fan, ZHAN WANG: Garden Utopia, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha, China, 2009 (illustrated, p. 216).
Changchun, China, Changchun Invitational Sculpture Exhibition, 1999.
Beijing, China, Gallery of Central Academy of Fine Art, Continuation - Group Show of Five Artists, 1999.
Chicago, USA, Smart Museum of Art, Transience: Chinese Experimental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century, 1999.
Bad Homburg vor der Hohe, Germany, Blickachsen 7: Contemporary Sculpture in the Historic Bad Homburg Kurpark and Castle Gardens , 17 May-4 October 2009.

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Lot Essay

"In my series of works copying jiashanshi, I force the imagination to play upon the texture of the original material. By way of the mirror surface of the copy, I can induce a most direct and pure response from the viewer. Such visions produced through experience of the material nurture the life of the human spirit."

Zhan Wang's first inspiration for his Artificial Rock series came from Beijing's changing urban environment. During a period of rapid growth and development, Beijing's skyline was increasingly dotted with hastily constructed high-rises, often capped with "traditional" Chinese architectural elements, such as tiled roofs; the courtyards of such buildings might also gratuitously include a traditional scholar's rock. For the artist, these monuments represented a mockery of Chinese culture, reducing it to a fixed set of appropriations and symbols, but no longer a site of contemplation or aesthetic engagement. For the artist, these elements revealed the responses of Asian countries when confronting the invasion of Western modern and post-modern culture. It is a fear of being swallowed by the new things, that make the old choose to stiffly keep the traditional symbols which have now lost their cultural meaning and core values.

In Zhan's eyes, the scholar's rocks, which have been appreciated and enjoyed by the Chinese literati since the Song Dynasty or if not even earlier, are "symbols". Aptly labeled "Scholar Rocks", the smaller size were carried around affectionately by Chinese literati who took these portable mountains into their sanctuaries, admiring the rocks for surfaces that suggest great age, forceful profiles that evoke the grandeur of nature, overlapping layers or planes that import depth, and hollows or perforations that create rhythmic, harmonious patterns. A set of five principal aesthetic criteria - thinness (shou), openness (tou), perforations (lou), wrinkling (zhou) and uniqueness (chou) - have long been identified for judging scholar's rocks. However, the scholar's rocks decorating modern skyscrapers today are only monuments missing their beautiful qualities and the function of provoking meditation.

The artist hammered the stainless steel pieces into fine smooth panels by hand, and further sculpted them into this magnificent work, Artificial Rock No. 4 (Lot 1033), based on the shape of a real rock he bought back from the flower market in the Southwest Beijing. Zhan said his sculptures should be viewed as "the shell of rocks", since they are duplications of the symbols of real stones. As Wu Hong has written, "We must realize that to Zhan Wang, glittering surface, ostentatious glamour, and illusory appearance are not necessarily bad qualities, and that his stainless-steel rocks are definitely not designed as satire or mockery of contemporary material culture. Rather, both the original rockeries and his copies are material forms selected or created for people's spiritual needs; their different materiality suits different needs at different times. The problem he addresses is thus one of authenticity: Which rock- the original or his copy- more genuinely reflects contemporary Chinese culture? Interestingly, the Chinese call natural rockeries jia shan shi, or "fake mountain rocks." According to Zhan Wang, such rocks, even if made of real stones, have truly become "fakes" when used to decorate a contemporary environment. But his stainless-steel rocks, though artificial, signify the "genuine" of our own time".

Zhan centralizes his focus on freeing sculpture from the restrictions inherent in the 20th Century Chinese sculptural traditions. Notably, he is concerned with the relationship between the opposing forces of old and new, natural and man made form. These forces have always formed a yin-yang dichotomy within which we negotiate our lives. While the new is rapidly eradicating the old, he suggests that tradition need not disappear despite the ascendancy of the modern. Zhan Wang's Artificial Rock is the perfunctory and quintessential example that old and new, natural and manufactured can coexist as a harmonious whole, just as yin and yang does so long as society is given the outlets and resources to bridge those divides.

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